In the past, people served machines. Today, machines free people to do what technology can’t: sell, service, and lead. As we explore this global shift from the industrial to the digital age, we cordially invite your voice in Developing the 21st Century Workforce™.
By Jack McDaniel
We used to think that multitasking was a great idea. Hey, I’m going to text my buddy about the World Series, finish up the PowerPoint slides for my client presentation on Thursday, and look over that manual on the latest router application, all while “participating” in a Webinar on how to improve our productivity. And why not throw in eating lunch and buying the latest best-seller on Amazon while I’m at it?
The problem is, data is emerging that indicates multitasking has some serious downsides (here and here, for instance).
It turns out that the brain experiences “brownouts” when you’re multitasking. Just like a brownout on the electrical grid, energy flows from active processes to bolster new processes. The more processes you have, the less energy you have to fuel them all. The lights go dim, and that’s bad!
What to do? The answer, obviously, is to stop multitasking.
Multitasking is NOT going away. So what can you do to protect yourself from mental brownouts?
One key is organizing. Make a list of what you have to do and then prioritize it. Let go of the stuff you can’t get to, the stuff that’s lower on the list. Don’t try to do something vital (negotiate a hairpin turn at high speed on a foggy Swiss mountain in your Super Trofeo) while doing something not-so-vital, say ordering pizza on your cell phone. I know it’s deep dish Chicago-style, but still…
Another key is to minimize distractions. If you can stay focused on an important task, you’ll actually gain energy from the sense of accomplishment when you finish it and confidence as you head into the next thing on your list. Just ignore that last text.
Finally, be kind to yourself. Take breaks and relax. Exercise and treat yourself occasionally. No one’s going to do this for you, and unless you take regular self-checks – and check yourself out of work when you need to - you’re likely to go from brownout to burnout.
It doesn’t always work. Too often you’re going to find multitasking is the only way to get things done. But once you’re aware that it’s not the best way to work, you can take proper precautions – and still have time to enjoy that latest best-seller while eating a slice in your Alpine chateau.